Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Betrayed by County Council on taxes, constituents speak out

The Montgomery County Council is hearing from constituents after voting unanimously to raise the overall tax burden to the highest level in County history last week. Many have taken to Facebook to vent on the councilmembers' pages:


Mark Bickel reminded Councilmember Hans Riemer that Riemer and his Council colleagues will all still receive a "MASSIVE salary increase" of 28% to $136,258 a year, even as they raised taxes and slashed the salary increases of County employees. The latter move led one County union official to call the nine councilmembers "clowns."

Many of those complaining are Democrats, and are warming to Robin Ficker's proposed ballot question on term limits for the Council. "Hans...dude...a 9% increase in property taxes?" wrote Richard Garifo. "Really? I'm blue to the bone but I have GOT to question how this money is being spent. This term-limit thing is looking pretty good right now."

"An 8.7% tax increase is nothing to be proud of. You should be embarrassed," wrote Ed Rothenberg.

Several citizens have asked to see any document that actually formalizes the agreement that the Council and their Board of Education colleagues have boasted they reached with this budget. The drama quickly ended, however, when a Council staff member acknowledged to Louis Wilen that there is no such document that requires Montgomery County Public Schools to reduce class sizes. Whoops! Not surprising, as the Council has no authority to enforce any such actions by MCPS or the BOE.

New retail center proposed for Rockville Town Center (Photos)

A new commercial building with retail and restaurant space is proposed for a surface parking lot at the corner of Maryland Avenue and E. Middle Lane in Rockville Town Center. Bethesda real estate firm Streetsense is marketing the future spaces, which will include patio seating for restaurants.

The two-story structure would house a 13620 SF gym on top, with five retail/restaurant spaces down below on street level. Streetsense is currently marketing the project as 41 Maryland Avenue. An exterior rendering is somewhat reminiscent of Bethesda Row, a Federal Realty development that Streetsense indeed lists among the designs it says will inspire the architecture of this project.

41 Maryland Avenue is scheduled to deliver in the fall of 2017, Streetsense says.

Click on the floorplans below to enlarge for greater detail:

Images courtesy Streetsense

Monday, May 30, 2016

First look: Old Line Bank in Rockville (Photos)

On this Memorial Day, here's a new bank in Rockville Town Center that takes its branding inspiration from some of the first American soldiers to give their lives in defense of this nation. Old Line Bank derives its name from the Maryland 400, a.k.a., "The Old Line." Revolutionary War soldiers who sacrificed themselves so that the Continental Army could escape to fight again, they are honored in text and art form inside the new bank branch.

There is a monument in Brooklyn, NY to those who fell in this battle on Long Island, who were from the 1st Maryland Regiment. In the Battle of Long Island, they were led by a man whose name is likely familiar to any longtime Marylander who has traveled the state (and in Southern Maryland, in particular), Col. William Smallwood (who eventually earned the rank of General).

Old Line is truly a local institution, headquartered in Bowie. It is one of several smaller Maryland banks entering Montgomery County, with Carroll Community Bank being another. This branch is in the ground floor of the new Upton Apartments, with convenient garage parking inside the building. The address is 196 E. Montgomery Avenue.




Friday, May 27, 2016

MCPS audit finds lack of financial and fraud controls, poor cybersecurity

While the local media is serving up the official Montgomery County Council talking points about the record heist, er, "Education First Budget" officially approved by all 9 councilmembers yesterday, you are turning to this website to learn "the rest of the story."

The budget raised your taxes to historic levels, even requiring a unanimous vote to exceed the County's charter limit on property taxes. It jacked up the recordation tax that you will pay when you sell your condo or home, or even try to refinance your mortgage! And it hiked spending $90 million beyond what the Council was required to allot to MCPS in the budget under the maintenance of effort law - meaning that there's no going back; we will now have to maintain that unnecessarily-high level of spending in perpetuity, requiring additional tax hikes. Even County Executive Ike Leggett, often called "Tax-Hike Ike" by detractors, warned that the County will now face a financial crisis this time next year based on the revenue forecast, even with the new taxes.

Last week, I referred to that new revenue - being handed over without an audit of MCPS or definitively-new strategy to reduce the achievement gap - as just being more money down the MCPS fiscal toilet. Well, the Maryland State Office of Legislative Audits has just released a new report on that toilet - and it may have you reaching for a bottle of Liquid Plumbr.

Auditors found that MCPS had awarded a $900,000 contract for a survey of its employees without bothering to use a competitive procurement process, or even preparing a statement to explain why it was justified or necessary to not put the survey contract up for bid. An unnamed MCPS employee at the management level told auditors that a MCPS "executive management official" instructed those responsible for finding a vendor to choose that firm (believed to be Gallup) without putting it out for bid. The report notes that there are many firms that conduct surveys to choose from.

MCPS also failed to write up a required statement of benefit when it used Intergovernmental Cooperative Purchasing Agreements for computers, fuel and other commodities. It is illegal to execute an ICPA without first providing that statement, which needs to show the purchases will either save money or improve administrative efficiency.

Four MCPS departments did not record or endorse checks and cash receipts before they were transferred to the Controller's office. These receipts were handled by more than one employee in those departments, auditors found. "As a result," the report says, "cash receipts could me misappropriated without detection."

Perhaps even more disturbing - MCPS had no records it show the auditors to show how much money three of those four departments had collected. The one department that could show how much in checks/cash receipts it had taken in reported that $290,000 in such funds was handled at risk of misappropriation.

At the same time as the County Council and MCPS are aggressively pursuing your hard-earned money via record tax increase, auditors found MCPS is not aggressively attempting to collect debts owed to it (and in reality, owed to you, the taxpayer).

As of the last report counted by auditors, MCPS has outstanding accounts receivable (debts owed to it) that total $45 million - that is half of the $90 million that the Council just raised your taxes to give as an extra bonus to MCPS! You can't make this stuff up, folks. We are being governed by people who are either corrupt, or very stupid.

In many cases, auditors found, MCPS did not issue the "Dunning notices" that must be sent in order for debts to be turned over to collection agencies. They also found that three employees had the ability to process credits that would make the debts owed to MCPS appear to have been reduced, while in reality, no actual funds had been collected. Without oversight of those transactions, auditors say, "improper non-cash credits could be processed in the system without detection."

Were any such improper transactions made? The report says MCPS "could not provide supporting documentation for 5 credits totaling $22037. As a result, we could not determine whether these credits were proper."

Examining the procurement system at MCPS, auditors found that 41 employees have been assigned incompatible procurement and disbursement functions without independent review. They could modify purchase order or mark items in the system as having been received, and in one case, had access to the room where checks were printed.

With no independent review or approval of the transactions those 41 employees made, "improper or erroneous transactions could be processed without detection," auditors wrote.

Auditors found that MCPS does not monitor contracts to ensure that payment don't exceed the contracted amounts agreed to. For example, MCPS hired a law firm in a legal case regarding special needs education. It spent a total of $226,000 on that firm in FY-2014. MCPS had the contractual option of paying a daily hearing rate to the firm of $6300-per-day, or hourly services-plus-expenses. Auditors report that MCPS didn't bother to calculate the latter option for each day of the case, and the law firm's invoices did not list the number of hours each day. MCPS did not demand that information, and therefore may have paid more than necessary for the legal services.

In three other cases, where MCPS contracted purchases of computer equipment and milk, "MCPS paid the vendors approximately $1.3 million more than the contract amounts approved."

Regarding personnel and contracts, auditors determined that there are insufficient independent controls on changing employee and salary information in the MCPS computer system.

Moreover, MCPS is having overall computer security issues. This is notable for two reasons - 1) Many parents have expressed concern over both the handling of student information and the issuance of computer hardware to students by MCPS, and 2) Councilmember Hans Riemer has grandstanded as a guru of cybersecurity for self-serving political purposes. Four years after Riemer took office, it was found that the County was still running on Windows 2000, one of the most vulnerable platforms in the world.

Perhaps Riemer has been consulting for MCPS, as auditors concluded the school system's core network firewalls are not configured properly to secure the MCPS network. Auditors found that there is "overly broad" outside access to all devices on the MCPS network, "thereby placing these network devices at risk." Some exterior source locations could have access to "any destination on the MCPS network," auditors wrote.

Firewall logs are not being regularly reviewed, and core firewalls do not currently send urgent emails to MCPS system administrators to alert them to "high severity firewall operational events," the report says. An insecure connection protocol used by administrators shows login credentials in clear text, auditors noted.

Thirty critical non-public servers are improperly connected to a network containing publicly-accessible servers, and 13 email servers that were supposed to be private are instead publicly accessible.

86 third-party business partners of the school system improperly have "network-level access to the entire MCPS network." Oops.

Much like with the Riemer Windows 2000 debacle, every computer tested by state auditors was determined to be running an outdated operating system. 75% of the workstations they tested did not have the latest security updates downloaded. Whoops! Paging Hans Riemer, cybersecurity guru!

13,000 MCPS computers were determined to not even be compatible with the anti-malware software tool the school system uses.

Overall, auditors found, there was no automatic security update or patching system in place.

Speaking of student information, controls over that information were found by auditors to be "not sufficient." The installed version of the student information database software hasn't been supported by the developer since January 2012.

Currently, there is heated debate over a County Council blunder that now threatens to move school bus depots into at least two residential neighborhoods in Rockville. But auditors found that MCPS is doing a poor job of managing the school bus routes. 300 routes are currently failing to meet ridership goals, suggesting they could be consolidated with other low-ridership routes to save substantial funds. MCPS is not doing that, but demanding more money from you to throw after bad.

Bus maintenance work orders are not up to date, either. "MCPS work order reports in the system were not accurate, and could not be used to reliably track the status of bus maintenance work."

Bus parts are highly susceptible to theft and misappropriation, the report states. Indeed, the auditors' review of parts inventory identified "shortages totaling $92,000 and overages totaling $49,500." Sounds like a County Council salary increase's worth.

MCPS isn't doing a much better job controlling health care costs. In FY-2014, for example, MCPS paid $295 million in health care claims. But it didn't verify the legitimacy of those claims. Auditors say MCPS told them it doesn't believe there are any instances of fraud or improper billing. But auditors note that Maryland regularly reviews such claims by state employees, and found that improper health care payments identified by such audits have always exceeded the amount spent to review them. In short, significant funds may be being lost on health care expenses at MCPS. But of course, it doesn't matter - they can just hit you with another tax increase from their friends on the County Council to cover it!

In conclusion, the County Council has once again been proven incompetent and impotent. They have approved a massive increase in funds to a school system that once again has proven to have poor financial accountability. It's telling that the supposedly super-intelligent County Council did not have the intellectual curiosity to seek out the information the audit described above provides before voting to approve additional funds that put taxpayers behind the 8-ball next year. And with no credible new strategy to stop the decline of education in MCPS to justify the heist.

As the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County reported on its blog yesterday, the Council will not even examine the audit until August, when many will be on vacation and not following Council business.

I guess when you have a Masters Degree in Taxation like the Council does, fiscal responsibility can wait.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

First look: Habit Burger Grill in Rockville (Photos)

Here's a sneak peek inside the new Habit Burger Grill at Wintergreen Plaza, which will be hosting pre-opening events this weekend. Once officially open, the home of the famous Charburger will operate from 10:30 AM to 10:00 PM daily.

Friday, 5/27: 11:30 am & 5pm | Free Burger Day for the first 200 guests. Enjoy an award-winning Charburger, fries, and a drink for free.

Saturday, 5/28: 11:30 am & 5pm | Free Burger Day for the first 200 guests. Enjoy an award-winning Charburger, fries, and a drink for free.

Sunday, 5/29: 11:30am-1:30pm | Fundraiser. 100% of sales will go to Girls on the Run of Montgomery County.

Sunday, 5/29: 5pm-7pm | Fundraiser for Bethesda Lacrosse. 100% of sales will go to Bethesda Lacrosse.

Tuesday, 5/31: 11:30am-1:30pm | Free Habit Day for the first 200 guests. Enjoy a delicious chargrilled meal for free.

Habit Burger is located at 895-A Rockville Pike.






Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Process that favors developers over citizens, such as in Rockville bus depot schemes, targeted by residents

Residents organized by Save Westbard gathered at the Washington Waldorf School in Bethesda last night to discuss next steps in what is becoming a Montgomery County-wide citizen uprising against a planning process dominated by development interests. With the recent passage of the Westbard sector plan, attempts by the County to place several bus depots in residential neighborhoods in Rockville, controversial developments planned in Lyttonsville and downtown Bethesda/Chevy Chase, and the Planning Board approval of an urban-style low-income apartment complex in rural Damascus, disparate citizen groups are linking together to change the process, and boot out the County Council that voted unanimously to approve the Westbard plan and Carver bus depot.

One indication of the frustration with County elected officials was activist and attorney Robin Ficker collecting a bounty of new signatures for his term-limits initiative. Ficker believes he will come in with more than the 10,000 signatures required for term limits to be placed on the ballot for voter approval or rejection. If approved by voters, Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal would be forced to step down in 2018, and could not run again for those seats for four years.

Two new websites are being launched in the effort at Westbard and countywide.

MCCPR.org is planned to be the hub of activism for a county-scale citizen operation to reform the planning process, and reduce the influence of development interests in County planning and politics. Currently, the Council receives more than 80% of its campaign contributions from developers and development attorneys, with the exception of Elrich, who accepts no funds from development interests.

Evidence emerged that the Council has actually been cynically crunching the voter numbers, and had concluded that the number of voters at Westbard alone could not boot them from office. That Machiavellian calculation emboldened them to unanimously pass the Westbard plan despite overwhelming community opposition and anger. The same calculations could be underway for the Westmore Avenue bus depot site, where the County Council and Board of Education are not stepping in to stop it. With large, mobilized citizen groups now linking up, all bets are off for their reelection in 2018.

More specific to Westbard (but potentially duplicable in other areas facing sector plan rewrites), is a second site, PlanWestbard.org. Jack Lopez, a resident and professional urban planner, will head up the site. It will not only dive in-depth into the Westbard plans expected to be unveiled next week, but also present alternative concepts going forward.

Lopez says he will try to bring new tech innovations other jurisdictions and the private sector are using in planning to the analysis. Many of the methods currently used by the County to study traffic, for example, are vague, inaccurate, and incomplete.

Longtime County activist Stan Wiggins presented an analysis of the option to incorporate, which a majority of residents voted to explore back in April. It was hoped that an incorporated southwest Bethesda, or Lyttonsville, for example, would give local residents authority over land-use decisions like Rockville and Gaithersburg currently enjoy. Wiggins found that a new municipality's land-use authority would be retained by the County, unless a provision in the law was overridden by the state legislature. Given that many state-level office holders also receive hefty checks from the same developers, that is unlikely to happen.

This is just the beginning, as the large turnout at last night's meeting suggests.


JBG, GSA celebrate completion of new HHS complex at Twinbrook

Pictured from left are
Rod Lawrence, JBG Partner; Kristi Smith, JBG Senior Vice President;
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett; Greg Trimmer, JBG Principal;
Dr. Mary Wakefield, Acting Deputy Secretary of the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services;
Julia Hudson, GSA Regional Administrator for National Capital Region;
Dr. Howard Haft, Deputy Secretary
Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene;
and
Tiffany Waddell, Director of Federal Relations
for Maryland Governor Larry Hogan
Developer The JBG Companies and the U.S. General Services Administration held a ribbon-cutting yesterday to celebrate the completion of the new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services complex at 5600 Fishers Lane in Rockville. Previously known as the Parklawn Building, the 1970s building has been transformed into a collaborative workspace with natural light, and is expected to receive LEED Platinum certifcation. The makeover cost $300,000,000.

Centered around an impressive, 14-story glass atrium, the complex's open floor plans and skybridges facilitate ease of movement and cooperation among employees. Gensler was the architecture firm on the project, with James G. Davis Construction serving as the general contractor.

With 6000 employees and now four HHS agencies under one roof, the GSA still has 350,000 square feet available for expansion on the site. The expansion of federal jobs, along with the County's booming biotech sector, have been among the few bright points in an otherwise-moribund Montgomery County economy over the last decade. Since the residential building boom in the Twinbrook area of Rockville continues, being able to locate thousands of decent-to-high wage federal jobs there is a rare shot in the arm for the County's promise of smart growth.

In many other parts of the City and County, employment centers are being now converted to residential housing, putting more commuters on the road to job centers outside the City. Here, there's a chance for employees to walk to work, or take Metro.

"We truly have reason to celebrate today," said County Executive Ike Leggett at the ribbon-cutting. "I, for one, couldn't be more pleased." JBG Principal Greg Trimmer called the revamped complex a "world-class facility," and praised the collaborative effort among all of the agencies and contractors who made it happen.

The new complex is next to another JBG-developed workplace, the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases. JBG has arguably been the major player in the transformation of Twinbrook, with several commercial and residential projects now completed there.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Former Rockville mayor Giammo elected president of WECA

Outgoing West End Citizens Association President Noreen Bryan last night announced that former Rockville Mayor Larry Giammo has been elected the organization's new president. Giammo served as mayor from 2001 to 2007. He has been actively engaged in City issues since leaving office, however. In recent months, Giammo has been a vocal opponent of the proposed bus depot at the Carver Educational Services Center, and of the plan to build townhomes on the former site of Chestnut Lodge.

Retiring Rockville police chief recognized by Mayor and Council

Terry Treschuk, who has spent the last 27 years as Chief of Police in Rockville, was recognized by the Mayor and Council last night for his service to the City. "I begged him not to go," said Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, who called the occasion "bittersweet."

An emotional Treschuk accepted a Rockville flag and the key to the city. "I'm just speechless, which isn't like me," Treschuk said at the podium. "I'm still in the city, and I'll be coming to Community Forum," he said to laughter.

Image courtesy City of Rockville via Twitter

BOE puts Carver bus depot plans "on hold," Westmore still on; Rockville Mayor and Council discuss options

Rockville's Mayor and Council discussed highly-controversial school bus depot proposals for two residential neighborhoods in Rockville last night, as the Montgomery County Board of Education announced it was putting plans for one of the sites "on hold" (although only the Montgomery County Council has the power to actually prevent the County from abandoning its current Shady Grove depot).

BOE President Michael Durso responded yesterday to a memo from the County Council that asked the board to cease all efforts toward building a Montgomery County Public Schools bus depot at the historic Carver Educational Services Center at MD 355 and Mannakee Street. Durso said he and the board understand the message that a permanent solution is preferable to a stopgap site.

Durso promised in the letter that, "We will put all planning activities on hold until a feasible solution, including a permanent plan for the relocation of the [existing] Shady Grove Transportation Depot, is identified."

While that is encouraging news for the residents near Carver, plans for a second bus depot at 1000 Westmore Avenue appear to be on a fast track. A petition against using the Westmore property, which is directly adjacent to homes in Lincoln Park, is now online. And residents of Aspen Hill remain concerned that the County will again turn to the Blair Ewing Center on Avery Road, out of desperation for a large depot site.

Residents opposed to the Westmore depot turned out at last night's meeting to speak during the Community Forum. The most discussed concerns included traffic, pollution, safety of children walking to a nearby park, more noise on an already-noisy street, and the explosive potential of mixing vehicles carrying large amounts of diesel fuel with an existing Washington Gas natural gas field.

Lincoln Park has made many neighborhood improvements over the last decade, and one resident said the bus depot would "defeat the purpose of what we did." It would create "an unsafe environment for kids," said Angela C. Younger, President of the Legacy at Lincoln Park Citizens Association. The neighborhood has a rich history as one of the most notable African-American communities in Montgomery County, meaning that the County is attempting to drop a bus depot into two African-American historic sites in the City.

"I never thought I would be up here" to speak at a Community Forum, began Lam Hoang, who lives near the proposed Westmore depot. "This would be a very dangerous place, if there were to be an increase in traffic along" Westmore, Hoang predicted. 400 buses idling at the depot and accelerating through the community "will be quite a bit of smog every day for us to breathe," Hoang said.

Hoang's neighbor, Kentaro Yamamoto, shared his concern about emissions, noting that he already has asthma. Yamamoto also expressed trepidation about the depot's effect on home values in the neighborhood, and increasing noise levels. "It is quite noisy on that road" as it is, Yamamoto said.

A new Lincoln Park resident said the depot would be "a nightmare," given the massive buses traveling narrow streets past small homes close to the road. "It's going to be really terrible," she said.

It seems like just as residents are getting organized, the County is attempting to work that much faster to ram the Westmore site through. The Montgomery County Planning Board is now scheduled to take up the Westmore depot site at its June 16 meeting. Importantly, the public will be able to testify at that meeting. 

But there are even more challenges to stopping the Westmore plan - it is coming to the Board under the Mandatory Referral Process, meaning it will be much harder to stop than a private development project. And MoCo Planning Department planner Khalid Afzul told the Mayor and Council that the Board will only be considering the issue of the County acquiring the land, and not the plans for the bus depot itself. City Councilmember Mark Pierzchala said it is imperative that a member of the Mayor & Council testify at that June 16 meeting, where Afzul said the Westmore item is currently scheduled for 8:30 PM (which I have to say is the latest time I've ever heard for a Planning Board agenda item).

On the Carver site issue, a representative of the Woodley Gardens West Civic Association reported that Greg Ossont of the County Department of General Services has demanded a king's ransom of $2332 to answer residents' request for documents related to the bus depot and Shady Grove redevelopment plan that requires new sites to be found. "This is pretty outrageous," he said. As Councilmember Beryl Feinberg is employed as Deputy Director of the County DGS, he asked her to recuse herself from any bus depot-related votes. Feinberg has "an obvious conflict of interest," he argued, as her employer could face financial penalty if new depot sites can't be found.

Feinberg objected to the suggestion, saying she has carefully thread the needle in determining when and when not to recuse herself, consulting with the City Attorney. She said she has "nothing to do with Capital Improvements" in the department, and has had no conversations on the topic with County Executive Ike Leggett. Feinberg said she will not recuse herself from bus depot-related votes.

Manor Lake Civic Association board member Kevin Gormley spoke in opposition to turning Blair Ewing Center into a depot, saying it would conflict with the MCPS planning process for Ewing, add more heavy vehicles in addition to a surge in truck traffic already expected from a new rock crushing operation nearby, and that residents' arguments are fact-based. Manor Lake is across Norbeck Road from Aspen Hill.

Aspen Hill residents, who already were forced to fight Round 1 with the County in the "Smart Growth Initiative" bus depot debacle, also turned out at the Rockville meeting last night. One resident accused the County (in perhaps the understatement of the year) of "putting development before residents."

There is concern in Aspen Hill that pressure from Rockville residents will encourage the County to reopen that old proposal to turn the Blair Ewing Center on Avery Road into the new depot. That move would potentially require the large alternative education program there to be relocated to the smaller English Manor school site in the residential area of Aspen Hill.

But the Aspen Hill speakers were also there to support their Rockville neighbors, noting that all of this sounds very familiar to them.

"We became the victims of bad planning," recalled Jamison Adcock, President of the Aspen Hill Civic Association. He said the County Council's Declaration of No Further Need for the current Shady Grove depot should not be made until an appropriate permanent site can be found for a new depot. What's happening at the moment, Adcock said, is "a spectacular failure of County planning, and it needs to stop."

Rockville's elected officials are trying to stop it, but are getting little information from the County and MCPS, and aren't even sure if they will be given any role in negotiating the solution.

Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr asked staff if the City could make the public information requests that the County is currently rebuffing citizens on. Acting City Manager Craig Simoneau said it could, but that it is not common practice for Rockville. Pierzchala noted that the Carver Coalition has "done a huge, huge search of County websites and documents" to try to obtain any information it can, in light of stonewalling by the County and MCPS. Neither the County nor MCPS accepted invitations from the City to speak at last night's meeting (two officials from the County Planning Department, which is part of the National Capital Park and Planning Commission, did).

Mayor Bridget Newton warned against having the City pay the costs of the information requests. "The City shouldn't be in the position of funding these requests," she said, despite supporting the effort to obtain the information. Newton said she would like to support the requests in non-monetary ways.

Simoneau noted that the City might still need to pay for its own, more narrow information request. Newton said she would support that expenditure, as long as the information obtained is also shared with residents. Simoneau said that "absolutely" would be the case.

The Mayor and Council then discussed a letter they are planning to send to the Planning Board regarding the Westmore proposal, which would also be carbon copied to County Executive Ike Leggett and the County Council. Newton had drafted the letter, the text of which was supported by the City Council in nearly its entirety.

Feinberg suggested removing the language that asked the County to not consider Westmore, Carver, "and any other property in or adjacent to the City." She said there could well be sites not in residential areas within the City that eventually might be deemed appropriate. Pierzchala said he didn't necessarily object to the change, but worried that it "invites people to come close to Rockville."

Palakovich Carr asked if any further examination of the former Gude landfill site has been undertaken. Simoneau said staff is currently gathering information on it.

Newton brought up another alternative site that has been floated, the fire training site at Route 28 and Shady Grove Road. She said she knows the County has long-term plans to redevelop the land, but that it could function as a short-term solution. Pierzchala said he agreed that site should be considered. Councilmember Virginia Onley said she has been looking for potential sites as she travels across the city. One that caught her attention was a parking lot at MD 355 and Shady Grove Road, she said, suggesting staff look at that site as well.

With the exception of the Westmore issue - and it's very notable that the County Council and BOE are not taking the steps to protect Lincoln Park that they have claimed they're taking on the Carver site - much of the debate will likely be shaped by whatever the County Council decides to do when it discusses the whole Shady Grove depot debacle on June 21.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Montgomery County planning massive tax-cut for developers as they raise taxes on you

This Thursday, Montgomery County will raise your taxes to the highest level ever. And next week, they will discuss the biggest developer tax cut ever. 

Awk-ward.

On Thursday, the Montgomery County Council is expected to unanimously approve an FY-2017 budget that raises your taxes to a record, all-time high. It will include a property tax hike so massive, it required a unanimous vote by the Council last week to exceed the County's charter limit on property taxes. And it will hike the recordation tax you will pay when selling your home, or even just refinancing your mortgage. Notably, the budget shifts the cost of school construction from developers to taxpayers.

But the Council isn't done helping developers, who account for over 80% of councilmembers' campaign contributions, yet.

The Montgomery County Planning Department is now proposing a massive tax cut for developers.

That is not a misprint.

Just as the County has rejiggered its traffic congestion measurements to reduce taxes for developers, now the County political cartel is proposing to do the same for school capacity and construction costs.

Three key school funding equations would be changed under the planning staff's recommendations, and would result in developer tax cuts up to 59.4%!

Here's how the scam will work:
New math will make it
appear fewer students
are being generated
by new development
First, much like the "new math" planners now legally use to make failing intersections and overburdened roads appear to pass traffic tests, planners are proposing to change the equation for student generation rates. The "new math" will base the forecast only on housing built in the last ten years, which will - surprise! - slash the student generation rate significantly (anybody remember a little thing called "The Great Recession"?). Just a quick glance at the "before and after" colored bars in the graph above shows you just how drastic the change will be (green represents the number of students forecast under the proposed new math).
Massive developer tax cut
number one
The new, lower student generation rate will be combined with a biennial recalculation of school construction costs, to - surprise again! - massively slash school facility payments for developers. For example, the elementary school payment for a mid-rise apartment unit is currently $2,838. Under the new tax cut, that ES payment would drop to $1,495. How about a high-rise payment for the high school level in Bethesda, Silver Spring or Rockville? It will absolutely plunge from $804 to $394.

Sounds like a sweet deal, right? "But, wait - there's more!"
Massive developer tax cut
number two
Impact taxes developers pay will also be lowered under the new biennial formula. As the planning staff acknowledge in their report, under the new formula, "all School Impact Taxes will decrease." The mid-rise apartment building school impact tax per unit would drop from $12,765 to an astoundingly cheap $4,659.

In an additional proposed change, the current .9 multiplier in the school impact tax would be removed. This would preserve the type of massive tax cuts proposed for all but single-family homes. Which would also further discourage developers from building single-family homes, which cannot be built in the same density as townhomes and apartment buildings, and therefore generate fewer students on a lot of the same size than multi-family housing.

Think back to recent development fights in places like Westbard, downtown Bethesda, Rock Spring, White Oak and Lyttonsville, as well as the Adequate Public Facilities battle royale in the City of Rockville. At the outset of many of those discussions, the County Council and Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson told us they were going to "start a conversation" about how they could allow the massive development their developer supporters wanted, and somehow provide the infrastructure that would be required to support it.

Would you have imagined at that time that the plan was actually a ruse to open up the formulas and instead give those same developers a massive tax cut?

Well, if you read my blog back then, you might have known something was up.

It's unlikely anyone has any doubts about how arrogant and patronizing the County Council and Planning Board are at this point. You can be sure there's much "mansplaining" ahead from both, as they try to educate us to understand schemes and treachery - er, sorry, "Subdivision Staging Policy" - so complex it is simply beyond the small mind of you, the citizen.

Are you ready for term limits yet?

The Planning Board is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposals, and the rest of the SSP, on June 2, 2016.

So, to summarize, this Thursday, Montgomery County will raise your taxes to the highest level ever. And next week, they will discuss the biggest developer tax cut ever. You can't make this stuff up, folks! This is what happens when you have a political cartel where government policy is for sale to the highest bidder. And more than 80% of the money is coming from developers.

Res ipsa loquitur.

First look: World of Beer in Rockville (Photos)

Here's a sneak peek inside World of Beer in Rockville Town Center. The restaurant a beer list numbering 500 brews is scheduled to open on May 30 at 11:00 AM. 

World of Beer is located at 196 E. Montgomery Avenue, on the ground floor of the Upton apartments (which has a public parking garage; the entrance is steps away around the corner from World of Beer on Helen Heneghan Way).





Friday, May 20, 2016

MoCo Council budget: So easy, a caveman could do it

As Paul Harvey used to say: "And now...the rest of the story." While the Montgomery County political cartel is congratulating itself on the biggest heist of County residents' money in history, it is indeed time for the rest of the story on the Montgomery County Council's FY-2017 budget disaster.

Being sold as an "Education First" budget, it is in fact exactly like every other budget this Council has passed, except costing you a lot more than ever before. Forget that the Council has just robbed your bank account, or is slamming the working family trying to refinance their mortgage with a recordation tax. The budget that pulls off the 100 Maryland Avenue equivalent of The Italian Job promises to flush $90 million more down the Montgomery County Public Schools toilet, where schools have been in decline since 2010 according to the report by the Office of Legislative Oversight.

Great. But how does that make any sense without a definitively new plan to spend it? The budget will reduce class sizes by 1 or 2 students at some schools. It will add more auxiliary personnel, not actual teachers. But that's it. There's no new strategy to tackle the achievement gap here, just more expensive deck chairs being added to the Titanic.

Where is the universal Pre-K? Where are the additional early education initiatives? Where are the new partnerships with high-wage employers? Hint, none of these sure-fire solutions to the achievement gap are in this massive tax hike budget.

We will only have standardized tests to gauge student results at this point. I agree that testing has been oversold in recent decades. But, ironically, by recently dumbing down its grading system and eliminating final exams, MCPS has only now increased the importance of standardized test scores. If all of the classroom work is going to be graded with the new powder puff grading scale, grades are almost certain to rise across the board. That's not improvement, nor is it how education works. Outside of MCPS, such tactics are correctly termed, "cheating."

As far as school construction funds generated, note that the Council is raising those funds from you, not from the developers who are creating the need for more classrooms and schools. They didn't have the guts to go after the developers who provide 80% of their campaign funds, but they were eager and ready to pick your pocket.

Moreover, the Council has just dug us deeper into the structural deficit hole that we already had no immediate ability to climb out of. By going so far over the Maintenance of Effort requirement, we will now be required to match or exceed that level of spending next year, and in perpetuity. This was not leadership. It was a reckless, irresponsible vote passed to cover the Council's fiscal irresponsibility over the last two decades.

Did the Council make "history," as they claimed? Yes, in two regards: They have finally triggered the ultimate tax revolt, by unanimously voting to exceed the charter limit. The brilliance of the Ficker Amendment that created that cap is that each councilmember becomes the deciding vote when all 9 agree to exceed the cap.

And secondly, Council President Nancy Floreen made history by giving the longest speech regarding the passage of a budget I've ever heard. Ms. Floreen and her colleagues should probably save their "emotional" speeches for the 2018 election, when they have to actually face the voters.

Most disgustingly, the Council is the only player in this budget that slithers away with no skin in the game. They didn't give up any of their pet projects or spending that goes towards their political patrons. They sure as heck didn't give up any of the money they funnel to their developer puppet masters.

All they did was pick the pocket of the taxpayer, rob your bank account, and kneecap County employees by breaking signed labor contracts the Council had agreed to pay. Even a caveman could do that. I've heard complaints from individual teachers, first responders and other County employees. But where are the comments from union leaders in the County? Where's the outrage? This was a horrible deal, and a horrible precedent for labor. If you want to limit wages, that's something you proactively do when you negotiate and approve labor contracts. Breaking contracts is beyond the pale.

Being an incompetent councilmember, and then robbing the taxpayer and County employees to make up for it, is not leadership. It is not ingenious. It is not wise. It is cowardice. It is impotence. It is contempt for your constituents. It is a firing offense.

The term limit petition proposed for the ballot this fall may give voters the chance to give at least a few of the pink slips this Council so richly deserves.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Report: MoCo traffic congestion costing you $1834 per year

The failure of the Montgomery County Council to complete the County's master plan highway system is costing each resident an average of $1834 per year, according to a report released this week by the national transportation research non-profit TRIP. You lose about 82 hours a year idling in traffic jams, the report says, and the incomplete road network is costing Maryland $4.1 billion dollars a year in lost productivity and wasted fuel.

How much fuel? 85 million gallons. Which translates into significant additional pollutants and greenhouse gases that would not exist if traffic could keep moving smoothly.

According to the TRIP study, Montgomery County is home to the worst bottleneck in the state, at the Capital Beltway and I-270 spur in Bethesda. The Council's failure to build a planned Potomac River crossing north of the American Legion Bridge, and the Midcounty Highway Extended (M-83) - among other unbuilt freeways - creates traffic jams averaging 12.3 miles in length at the spur, lasting an average of 168 minutes per day there.

TRIP's latest numbers on vehicle miles traveled show most commuters still aren't "getting out of their cars." Vehicle miles traveled haven't declined in Maryland - in fact, they've increased: 12% since 2000, and 2% in the last 12 months alone. Metro ridership has declined over the same period. The report forecasts that VMT will increase another 20% by 2030, requiring new highway capacity to meet the demand. 

VMT increases almost 1% for every 1% of added population in Maryland, a damning statistic for those who claim that infinite growth is possible in Montgomery County.

Other County bottlenecks caused by unbuilt highways on TRIP's list include the Beltway at Connecticut Avenue (unbuilt Northwest Freeway, Outer Beltway, Rockville Freeway, I-95 through D.C.) in Kensington and the Beltway at Georgia Avenue (the unbuilt roads mentioned for the Connecticut exit, plus the unbuilt North Central Freeway and Northern Parkway) in Silver Spring. Multiple other I-270 interchanges made the list, as well.

The report notes that a 2013 survey of corporate executives found that Highway Accessibility is the top factor - after skilled labor - that firms consider when relocating their headquarters. Montgomery County has failed to attract a single major corporate headquarters in almost 20 years.

"Increasingly, companies are looking at the quality of a region’s transportation system when deciding where to re-locate or expand," the report says. "Regions with congested or poorly maintained roads may see businesses relocate to areas with a smoother, more efficient and more modern transportation system." Intelsat reportedly was considering moving its D.C. headquarters to 4500 East-West Highway in Bethesda, but ultimately chose Tysons with its superior highway access with Express Lanes, and direct highway access to Dulles Airport. In the near future, there will also be direct Metro access to Dulles from Tysons, to boot.

"Highways are vitally important to continued economic development in Maryland," the report argues, "particularly to the state’s tourism, agriculture, energy and manufacturing sectors."

The only good news in the report is that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's emphasis on addressing failing infrastructure appears to be bearing immediate fruit. There were 97 bridges rated "structurally-deficient" across the state in 2012; that number has fallen to 69 during Hogan's first term.

“From Governor Hogan’s $2 billion investment in highways and bridges to innovative projects and practical design, Maryland is committed to improving safety and reducing hours lost every day to congestion,” Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete K. Rahn said in a statement reacting to the TRIP report.

But without completing Montgomery County's master plan highway system, economic development and quality of life will continue to decline. “Without additional transportation funding, Maryland’s transportation system will become increasingly deteriorated and congested, the state will miss out on opportunities for economic growth, and quality of life will suffer,” TRIP Executive Director Will Wilkins said in a statement.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

World of Beer sets opening date in Rockville

Beer lovers rejoice - there is now an opening date for the restaurant and bar promising us a selection of 500 brews. World of Beer will open on Monday, May 30, at 11:00 AM at 196 E. Montgomery Avenue in Rockville Town Center. It is located in the ground floor of the Upton apartments/Cambria Hotel and Suites building across from the Regal Cinemas.

East Rockville residents organize against Westmore bus depot

The second front of the battle to stop a Montgomery County Public School bus depot from being located in Rockville is taking shape in the Lincoln Park area of East Rockville. MCPS has proposed a second bus depot for the former WINX radio property at 1000 Westmore Avenue. Citizens have created an online presence to oppose the plan, similar to the Carver Coalition effort against a depot at that site.

Calling themselves the East Side Coalition, they now have a blog and their first post - blasting the idea of using Lincoln Park and East Rockville as a dumping ground for something no one wants. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and the City Council unanimously agreed Monday to write a letter opposing the Westmore initiative. Like the Carver plan, the Westmore site is adjacent to homes, and would degrade a historic district.

A Montgomery County Council worksession on the controversy over the plan to abandon the existing Shady Grove bus depot, and allow a developer to turn it into residential property, is now scheduled for June 21.

All nine County Council members voted to approve design and construction of the Carver depot on February 9, but are now backpedaling furiously in the face of strong and organized community opposition. On Monday, County Council President Nancy Floreen astonishingly blamed residents for the Council's own failure to find an alternative site.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Mayor and Council vote to deny Chestnut Lodge amendment

Chestnut Lodge in 2003
Rockville's Mayor and Council voted 3-2 to deny an amendment to the Chestnut Lodge Planned Residential Unit (PRU) agreement that would have permitted townhomes to replace a multifamily condominium renovation of the historic sanitarium. The building burnt down in a suspicious fire in 2009.

Councilmember Virginia Onley said she would not oppose the developer's plan, citing her concern that the City could face legal action in the case if it denied the amendment. Other elected officials, past and present, have asserted that the City's legal position is strong, in that the PRU remains binding and in effect, and required the original building to remain in order to execute the agreement.

Onley referred to comments by Twinbrook Citizens Association President Richard Gottfried during a public hearing earlier in the evening, in which Gottfried warned of the danger of "spot zoning" on the different topic of the Rockville Pike Neighborhood Plan. Gottfried mentioned the legal action now pending against the City for its decision in the EZ Storage case.

While she said she opposes building townhomes on the site, Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr said the City is "held to certain legal standards" it may not be able to get out of in a case like this. She asked City staff to clarify its assessment of the criteria that is to be applied to the PRU and the proposed amendment. Zoning chief Jim Wasilak replied that, "We didn't see anything necessarily that was in conflict with the [Master] Plan." The site is in the W. Montgomery Avenue Historic District.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, who has long made clear her opposition to the townhome plan, said approval of it would "undermine" the entire W. Montgomery Avenue Historic District. She also objected to the applicant's proposal to greatly increase the footprint of the building beyond that of the original Chestnut Lodge. An out-of-character development would result in the loss of a historic site of not just local, but national, importance, she argued. In particular, rear decks and garages would negatively impact the site itself, as well as surrounding homes in the historic district.

Following the Mayor's remarks, Councilmember Beryl Feinberg moved to deny the amendment, but was questioned as to her reasoning by Councilmember Mark Pierzchala.

Then, Pierzchala made his own motion to deny the amendment. His motion instructed staff to bring back a resolution to the Mayor and Council that states the townhome project is in conflict with the Master Plan. It stated that the historic district the site is in would be "profoundly affected" by the out-of-character development.

Pierzchala's motion also zeroed in on specific issues related to the PRU agreement. He said the agreement was "expressly conditioned" on the retention of the main lodge building. He added that any proposal needs to be "more consistent" with the existing PRU. The townhome concept "does not meet the spirit or the intent of the original understanding," Pierzchala said.

The motion passed 3-2, with Onley and Palakovich Carr opposed.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Floreen blames residents for bus depot debacle, Rockville Mayor & Council drafting Westmore letter

Montgomery County Council President Nancy Floreen was asked to comment on the Carver bus depot controversy in Rockville yesterday. Can you guess who she attributed the depot crisis to? Take the Rockville Nights quiz:

a) the developer, which should have identified a new depot location

b) herself and her colleagues, who unanimously voted to fund design and construction of a bus depot at Carver on February 9, and didn't take their ultimate responsibility to locate a new site before voting for it seriously? And who now claim they don't read the legislation they vote for?!

c) you, the resident of Rockville?

Answer: C

That's right, the delay in finding a new bus depot site is the fault of "County residents who engage very actively."

Whoops!

The bus depot site search has been "very hard for all communities to have to deal with," Floreen said yesterday at a press conference. She confirmed the Council will now take up the matter in June, but offered no solutions at this point.

"I don't know how we'll handle that," Floreen told reporters. "This issue has gone on for how many years, (shouting) ten years? Attribute it to County residents who engage very actively."

Well, I guess we'll remember that in November 2018. Whether its refusing to take responsibility for the decisions and votes that got us here, or butting in line ahead of residents at the public meeting, the level of arrogance on the County Council is simply astonishing.

Meanwhile, Rockville Acting City Manager Craig Simoneau informed the Mayor and Council last evening that Montgomery County and Montgomery County Public Schools have both rebuffed their invitation to speak at their May 23 meeting on the bus depot issue.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton brought up the bus depot issue during Old/New Business later in the evening. She proposed that the body send a letter opposing a second depot planned for 1000 Westmore Avenue in Lincoln Park, saying that she would like to provide "a strong statement from the City of Rockville to support the community."

Newton outlined the objections the City should enumerate. The site is in a historic African-American community which has been there for over 100 years, she noted. It is also adjacent to a historic African-American cemetery, and would pose a safety risk to children walking to Lincoln Terrace Park.

Finally, Newton said, a bus depot "is not in keeping with the plan for their community," referring to the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Plan.

The letter is expected to be finalized by the next meeting.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Rockville construction update: Saks Off 5th (Photos)

Construction continues at the future home of Saks Off 5th, the Saks Fifth Avenue equivalent of outlet shopping, at Congressional Plaza in Rockville. Here you will find merchandise from Saks at discounts up to 70% off, as well as unique items exclusive to Saks Off 5th.

But you don't expect the same company that once redesigned its flagship store in the Art Moderne style, inspired by the 1925 Paris Exposition, to simply occupy a standard retail unit. So the extensive reconstruction of this space won't likely surprise Saks shoppers in Rockville, who will have a much shorter trip on crowded MD 355 to reach a Saks store than they do today.




Friday, May 13, 2016

3 County Councilmembers want to put DNFN for Shady Grove bus depot on Council agenda in June

Montgomery County Councilmembers George Leventhal, Sidney Katz and Marc Elrich - all of whom attended the Carver bus depot meeting Wednesday night and said they opposed using the Carver Center for bus parking - have now asked their colleagues to put the required Declaration of No Further Need for the existing bus depot on the June agenda.

The Council must vote to approve a DNFN before the County can sell the current depot site to a developer that is preparing to redevelop it as residential. In a memo, the three say that putting it on the agenda will allow for a thorough discussion of an issue that has concerned several neighborhoods, including those around the Carver site, Lincoln Park (where a second depot is being proposed at 1000 Westmore Avenue) and Aspen Hill (where the potential use of the Avery Road site would likely push the alternative education Blair Ewing Center to the English Manor school).

Residents, the councilmen write, have been left "angry and confused" by the process and uncertainty. Wednesday night's meeting did little to reduce either. It also became apparent that, according to the councilmen themselves, they did not read the resolution they voted to approve February 9, which funded conversion of Carver to a bus depot.

At the conclusion of their memo, which also went to County Executie Ike Leggett and the Board of Education, the councilmen ask the BOE to "cease any and all activity related to the proposed Carver site."

The memo is a step forward from the buck-passing Wednesday in providing at least two concrete next steps. But those will depend on how the Council and BOE act and or vote in response to the memo. Can the Council legally back out of the agreement, can that action withstand a legal challenge from the developer, and if they lose, where will the buses go?

Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Rockville residents hear many excuses, few answers at Carver bus depot meeting (Video+photos)

A citizen uprising against developer-driven government decisions in Montgomery County continued last night in Rockviille. Hundreds of residents opposed to a Montgomery County Public Schools bus depot, proposed for the Carver Educational Services Center at 850 Hungerford Drive, crammed into the all-purpose room at College Gardens Elementary School. Led by a citizen group known as the Carver Coalition, residents were already gathering in protest outside the school more than half-an-hour before the MCPS-hosted meeting started.

Chants of "No bus depot!" and "Shame on Leggett!" echoed through the College Gardens neighborhood, as reporters from ABC7 and Montgomery Community Television interviewed residents about the controversial proposal. Once inside, the residents continued their impromptu protest as the start time of the meeting neared. [Click the thumbnail below to watch video of the protests]
video

The proposal to place 100 school buses at the Carver site is controversial for many reasons, including exhaust emissions, pedestrian and child safety, noise (the buses have to test their horns each morning at 6:00 AM), the ugly fencing that would be erected, environmental impacts, and the plan's incompatibility with the Carver site's historic district designation.

Many public officials attended, including Rockville's representatives in the General Assembly. Delegate Kumar Barve told the crowd that he, State Senator Cheryl Kagan, and Delegates Andrew Platt and Jim Gilchrist all strongly oppose the Carver depot. Also in attendance were Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, City Councilmembers Virginia Onley and Mark Pierzchala, and several City staff members, including Acting City Manager Craig Simoneau and Planning Director Susan Swift. Former Rockville mayor Larry Giammo, who has been active in the citizen efforts to stop the Carver depot, was also present.

In a question that would be posed again and again throughout the evening, Barve asked MCPS staff, "who is the ultimate decision-maker?" After an inconclusive answer, Barve responded, "I don't feel I got a crisp answer to my question." Neither did Pierzchala. "I am a little bit upset at the answer you just gave," he said. "You ought to be here able to give an answer to those process questions, and not just engineering questions," Pierzchala added.

But the state and Rockville-level elected officials will have very little power to stop the Carver plan, under the Mandatory Referral process that makes it difficult to stop government development proposals.

The Montgomery County Council has the final authority to stop the depot, but MCPS officials and even the councilmembers in attendance would not acknowledge that fact, even under pressure from citizens to specify where the buck stops in this case. In fact, councilmembers rankled attendees by cutting into the head of the line of residents patiently waiting their turn to ask MCPS officials questions.

"Let the citizens speak!" "We need to hear from the people, not from elected officials!" were among the shouts, as Councilmembers George Leventhal and Sid Katz took command of the microphone. Attendees had already sat through a lengthy Powerpoint presentation clearly designed to reduce the public comment portion of the meeting.

To Councilmember Marc Elrich's credit, he has been engaged on this issue since the beginning, and had to be cajoled by colleagues to reluctantly come forward from the back of the room. Elrich implored the Board of Education to stop the plan; Leventhal blamed County Executive Ike Leggett "and his staff - it's their job."

But Leventhal's attempt to turn the Carver Coalition's grassroots turnout effort into a ready-made campaign rally for himself, complete with prepared applause lines of just how much he really, really opposes the Carver depot, ultimately backfired. While speaking at length (while the first actual residents had yet to get the microphone) about how much he opposes using the Carver site, Leventhal neglected to tell the crowd that he had voted for the money to design and construct a Carver depot!

Mr. Leventhal not only voted to approve Resolution 18-396 on February 9 this year, but he made the motion that triggered the vote according to the meeting minutes!

When a citizen later brought Leventhal's vote for the resolution up, Leventhal committed his latest "Four Pinocchio/Pants on Fire" gaffe. Leventhal claimed the money he voted for was simply to locate an appropriate site, not to design and construct a depot at Carver.

The citizen then handed Leventhal the actual resolution he had voted for, and asked Leventhal to read it aloud. Realizing his falsehood had been exposed, Leventhal flatly refused to comply. "No, I will not read that," he said firmly, handing the paper back to his constituent.

As you will see in this video, Leventhal then gestured and grimaced in exasperation, before returning to his seat as the text of the resolution was read aloud by a citizen:
video

The resolution appropriated $1,725,000 for "design" ($150,000) and construction ($1,575,000) of a new depot. On Page 3 of the document, which Leventhal refused to read aloud, it clearly states that the money is for "design and construction of the front parking lot at the Carver Educational Services Center to accommodate bus parking." Oops!

So consider the scene - the County Council is attempting to portray themselves as heroes to the rescue, when every one of the councilmembers speaking voted for the Carver depot design and construction. You can't make this stuff up, folks!

Most residents, while appreciating any opposition to the depot from the County Council at this point, were not likely fooled by the 11th-hour "heroics" of the councilmembers (six of whom didn't even bother to show up; neither did County Executive Ike Leggett, nor the superintendent of MCPS).

Woodley Gardens resident Margot Stein noted that some elected officials only now have "jumped on the train at the last minute, when they saw where this was going. You've let us down desperately. You've really let us down. I'm not voting for anybody who votes for this project."

The president of the Plymouth Woods community association had a blunt message for the County Council from his residents. Reporting that 272 residents had unanimously voted to oppose the Carver depot at their meeting earlier in the evening, he took the microphone to tell councilmembers, "Your time in office is done. We're gonna get you out of here so fast - and Ike Leggett, too. You're on the way out." 

The crowd roared and applauded.

For all of the talking by the councilmembers, the only assurances residents got were that A) the Council has to give the go-ahead to relinquish the current Shady Grove bus depot to the developer that will redevelop it as residential (and let's face it, that's why we're in this mess - the developer-beholden elected officials who run our County), and that B) the Council can rescind the above-mentioned $1,725,000 for the design and construction of the Carver depot.

Moreover, parse the statements of the councilmembers very closely. They left plenty of legal room to later approve a depot at Carver in their carefully-worded comments.

Now, how about the actual public?

So many residents had questions and comments that not everyone was given the chance to speak - despite the hosts of the meeting being the owners of the building!

The resident who really brought the house down was a graduate of the original Carver school, the only public high school for African-Americans in Montgomery County during the segregation era.

"I am a product of Carver High School," he began as a hush fell over the often-noisy room. "As I look back upon my education here in the County seat of Montgomery County, and how the [Montgomery County] Board of Education did not build an elementary school for us, and did not build a junior high school for us...I am the fifth generation of a slave family. So Carver was built."

"[George Washington] Carver was not a bus driver," he continued pointedly. "Carver was a scientist. Something he tried to instill in all of us, was to get an education."

To now pretend the Carver school never existed, he said, "The rug's too small. You can't sweep it under the rug. And now we want to put a bus depot in front of this historical building? No way. No way."

The gentleman received a large ovation from the crowd.

No one in the crowd spoke in favor of building the depot.

One leader of the opposition to the depot said, "I think this is a bad idea." Turning to the audience, he asked, "Do you think this is a bad idea?" "YEAH!!" the crowd roared back.

Mayor Newton implored residents to also support the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Rockville, where MCPS is now plotting to build an additional depot at 1000 Westmore Avenue (a.k.a. the WINX property, as it is known from its radio broadcasting days), directly across the street from homes.

Resident Scott Weaver noted that his window is "110 feet from the curb of the [Carver] lot," and said he is concerned for the health of his two small children. "Who is going to introduce a motion at their elected body to stop this?" "If the will is there, what is the action" any of the elected bodies can take, asked resident Theresa Defino.

Rockville resident and longtime activist Drew Powell said he has documentation from the County Council Education Committee "from more than a year ago, this documentation says, 'We're going to put some buses at Carver.'" Powell asked why residents weren't notified at that early stage.

"Why would you put a bus depot where people live," a young girl asked. "It harms people, and it harms the environment."

One attendee thought the racial overtones of putting buses at Carver were too offensive. Noting the history of desegregation and busing, putting school buses on a historic African-American site would be "a slap in the face," he said. "Especially at this time when racial and ethnic tensions are so high."

A man who moved to College Square in 2007 recalled his realtor gushing that "What's great about Maryland is that everything is master-planned." The crowd chuckled.

"Nobody would think of putting a commercial truck depot on this site," said a 36-year resident of Mannakee Street, which runs right alongside the Carver site and into the residential neighborhood directly adjacent to it. "This use is incompatible. We should not spend one more penny on this stupid idea."

His neighbor, who has lived on the street one more year than him, told MCPS officials, "Don't screw up our city."

Another young girl said, "I won't be able to sleep in the morning" with the bus horn tests blaring, and loud buses departing the depot. "It will make me tired at school, and I won't be able to do my best."

Monique Ashton, PTA President at College Gardens ES, asked if comments at the meeting were being recorded verbatim. No, it turns out that two people were simply jotting down notes. Ashton said that presented a transparency issue, if other officials won't be able to review the full input given at the meeting. She also implored the Council to start using the money from land sales for school construction.

A resident of Ivy League Lane asked, "How possibly can you mitigate [the noise of the buses]? I just can't imagine how anyone can live in this condition." He paused for several moments, before saying, "I am speechless."

How about performing a pollution evaluation, one resident asked. Seth Adams, Director of MCPS' construction division, said they don't have the expertise to do that, but that they would try to find someone qualified to do so, now that it had been brought up.

"How any person in a normal mind can suggest this strange idea [of a bus depot at Carver]," a resident asked. "This is ridiculous, and absolutely unacceptable."

A 45-year resident of College Gardens said he had a background in nuclear engineering. "Part of my experience was in forecasting," he said. "And I forecast this project will not go forward," he said to applause.

One student said, "We are not waking up at the butt crack of dawn, and ruining our GPAs, because you decide to put a bus depot on this site." A much-younger student concurred less colorfully that "No one wants to wake up at the crack of dawn just to hear these buses honk."

Ultimately, we have the same problem here as in multiple other communities where residents are now rising up in protest - developers are running the County through their contributions to the County Council campaign accounts. Why are noisy, polluting public facilities being relocated from industrial land near the railroad tracks to residential neighborhoods across Montgomery County? Purely for developer profit. Period.

A bus depot in a residential neighborhood? Anyone with common sense knows that idea is completely nuts.

It's easy for the Council to talk, but they are eventually going to have to find a depot site.

None of the ones discussed are viable. None are appropriate. Carver? No. Westmore? Nope. Avery Road? No. Gude Drive landfill? The jury is still out on that one.

So where else can this thing go? Are they going to pit one Rockville neighborhood against another? Rockville versus Aspen Hill? The Council is so certain there won't be a depot at Carver, but where will it be, then?

Why wasn't this addressed years ago? How did the Council have time to ram through the entire Westbard sector plan in Bethesda, and numerous other developer giveaways, but not time to find a depot site? Or to kill the idea of selling the existing depot to begin with?

I think we all know the answer.








Former Rockville mayor
Larry Giammo joins the
protest
Agenda for the meeting
Delegate Kumar Barve speaks
County Councilmember Marc Elrich
Graduate of the historic
Carver high school schools
the County Council